Longleaf Partners Fund posted a formidable 4.34% return in the first quarter, exceeding the S&P 500 Index’s 1.35%. A number of our stocks had double-digit gains, including several of our most undervalued businesses coming out of 2015. Most of our companies generated solid operating results, and management activity helped drive higher appraisals. Our two biggest positions declined slightly, and their portfolio weights made them among the notable detractors to our strong gains. Our investment cases and our high conviction for these companies remain unchanged. Not only were our absolute returns well beyond our goal of inflation plus 10%, but our relative results also benefitted from our lack of exposure to health care, which was among the top performing index sectors in 2015 but was the S&P 500’s worst performing sector in the quarter.
Stock prices in the first quarter embodied Ben Graham’s description of “Mr. Market,” whose manic short-term swings are driven by investor emotions. The market fell -10.3% at its February 11 low point but then rallied over 13% by the end of March, a 2300 basis point swing. While economic and political uncertainties fostered the volatility, our appraisals proved much more stable, highlighting the importance of anchoring investment decisions to the long-term cash flows and underlying asset values of each company. Continue Reading »